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Home Week 4 - Identity Coming full circle and the ungoverned 4:20

Coming full circle and the ungoverned 4:20

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Wallace (1999) provides a rather “1999” view of social interactions on the Internet.  What I mean is that he (I am assuming ”he” by the writing style, but I’m not sure, which is an early assessment I made in reading the article that certainly colored the way in which I was processing the information) reflects a point in time in the progression of the Internet in which the tools for social interaction were primitive and users’ familiarity with said tools was similarly rudimentary.  I myself was an avid IRC user (mostly for Warez purposes, a fact I’m not proud of and been completely reformed of) and I concur that the Internet was a rather chilly place.


I believe this is mostly because I think it was a much more utilitarian place to be (you know, like to steal stuff) – as opposed to being a place to “be” (at least not for the average user).  I know I wasn’t there to develop relationships or stay connected with friends.  I think this is an important point that Wallace echoes in the chapter.  We are living through a revolution in the ways we communicate, interact, and express ourselves in this world on Gutenbergian and Bellian (A. Graham Bell that is) magnitude.  We’re trying to adapt and there will be stages and phases in this process.  Each day I think we’ll be better at interacting more genuinely (as opposed to less-genuinely which is an interesting insight noted on page 33) in digital realms and understanding how humans interface with this technology.  Wallace (1999) dually notes this by saying, “we adaptable humans are still learning how to thaw the chilly Internet” (p. 18)    
Yet, I think the most important question raised by the Wallace (1999) piece is how much can current, pre-Internet constructs of social cognition be applied to social interactions in this new medium.  Even more interesting (to me at least), is the idea that perhaps the creation of the Internet and evolution of how it is used will reveal new constructs about human nature, human psychology, and the ways in which humans interact.  In a somewhat similar sense, I think an important question that has broadly applied to much of our class coversations is whether the Internet is changing humans (psychologically, cognitively) and human interaction on a fundamental level.
Goffman (1959) delves deeply into the world of metacognition and social interactions.  In his view, we are always maintaining the impression of ourselves (which requires extensive thinking about our thinking) we hope to transmit to others.  He is presenting a prequel to Elkind’s imaginary audience while giving it more credence than the “imaginary” moniker connotes.   Goffman (1959) argues that we are embroiled in a constant “game” trying to control others’ responses to our self-presentations to achieve our ends.  This “game” is indeed real and the consequences are real.  An awkward adolescent dressing and acting a certain way in order to influence an audience to think they’re cool is just showing, in Goffman’s opinion, their budding talents as a social actor able to influence others' behavior. 
I think that Goffman’s discussion of governable versus ungovernable components of self-expression provide an interesting application to the social networking world of the 21st century.  For example, there are many parts of my Facebook profile that I can govern and tailor to produce desirable impressions of myself in others.  On the other hand, there are ungovernable aspects of my Facebook page which generally take the form of other’s comments to my status updates, replies to comments I’ve made on someone’s wall, my friends status updates,  my friends videos, and the profile pictures of my friends to name a few.  Now, I understand that in referring to the ungovernable, Goffman was alluding to things like our body language, actions, and other forms of communication we can’t easily control, but I think this concept finds new meaning in social networking.  If I’m trying to present myself as a devoted father and hard-working academic while in their status updates my friends talk incessantly about snorting fat lines and growing Purple Kush, you might wonder a bit about who I really am as a person.  I have thought of this recently as I still have many old friends in Facebook who indulge in old habits and talk about them openly.  These people still are a part of who I am and I want them to remain as such.  My being friends with them expresses somewhat of what kind of person I was and currently am, less the risky behaviors.  I just don't know how I feel about, for example, an potential employer reading one of my old friends' rant on the need to make April 20th a national holiday or why Michael Phelps is a God for everything he's done outside of the pool.  I am who I am, right?  Perhaps worrying about all the ungovernables (and governables) has just restricted what could be a natural and decided less self-conscious expression of the true me in every realm of communication.       

1) Can we ever really control the way others perceive us?  If parts of these interactions are ungovernable and often taken the wrong way, is this “game” worth playing?  Perhaps promoting a less self-conscious presentation of self will produce better positive self-development instead of characterizing it as a big, somewhat fake charade (ala Goffman). 
2) Is social networking on the Internet taking us to a new, better place in social interaction or is it just taking us in a long, drawn out circle?  What I mean is whether the evolution of social networking is moving us to a place that will really enhance our relationships and overall happiness of our lives or are we just a few more clever emoticons and enhances video chats away from concluding that there is still no substitute for face-to-face interactions.

Penny Marie Thompson   |2009-02-08 22:41:05
avatar You make a good point about how your friends' online behavior can become part of your "expressions given off." When I wrote my post I said that I wasn't concerned about what I was "giving off" since my activity is mostly verbal and I can control that. Now that you mention it, though, I unfriended a former coworker after he became a fan of a child porn site. I mostly did that because I didn't want to see it in my news feed, but I was also concerned about other people seeing this behavior in my friends list.
Greg Casperson   |2009-02-09 11:07:11
avatar Hi Andy,
I think the aspect of worrying about your social identity depends on your personal situation. If I was a tenured professor I might not worry about it at all or at least minimally. If looking at being a potential professor, we may have a somewhat higher level of concern about this, but we’re also in a field where this might not be as much of a concern but may depend on specific future employers. If was interested in working for the FBI or state police then I would be much more concerned. I, in fact know a police officer who belongs to Facebook mainly to be able to see what applicants sites are like, who they hang with, etc. And, I think it was Penny who said last week, if I have the attitude I don’t want to work at a place where this is a concern, then I might not worry about this type of thing at all.
Nice timely image to go with this, btw
Andy Saltarelli   |2009-02-11 09:29:40
avatar I agree that a everyone's level of concern for their online identity is variable. There are certainly people who care deeply about the way that are presenting themselves (and probably generally for reasons of economics and employability) and others that probably should care more (unless you like racy photos of yourself out there for the world to see). Yet, I'm sure there are people very concerned about their online identity regardless of the impact it may or may not have on their occupational status. I would personally really not like (hypothetically speaking) to have an old girlfriend out me on on FB page so that my wife and her family (her mom just added me on Facebook) to read. I think my point is more about the "ungovernableness" of social networking and how that seems to mess with how we choose to interact via social networking... you can't really control your message, right? Kelloggs can't control how people are perceiving their decision to drop Michael Phelps as an endorser. They are trying to say that they don't condone illicit drug use while many bloggers and social networking types are hammering them -- changing their message right under their noses.

Thanks for the comment!
Tianyi Zhang   |2009-02-10 20:01:00
avatar My opinion to address your second question:
I think in a long run, social networking could enhance happiness in general. Happiness is the ultimate pursuing and may be the only essential reason for human motivation based on Zen Buddhist. Then empty all preconception of things, including self, is a crucial way to bring in happiness. This idea, when implemented in teaching and learning, calls for multiple definitions of self. That is, each of us has numerous identities. I am not smart at math, but I am good at playing piano; I may not capable to achieve academic success, but I am a caring person. Thus, if students could think about their multiple identities in different settings, there will be a higher chance for them to feel happen. Social networking provide potential environments to shape multiple identities (but depends on whether or not people consider about their identities in virtual environments) and thus may produce more happy people!
Kristen Marie Kereluik   |2009-02-14 11:21:13
avatar Andy- I really liked question #1 and after reading it I immediately had an answer (from the readings)...no, we can't control the way people perceive us. As quoted in the readings we all play the inference game, we have to infer information about other people, and they about us. We can be careful to give what we want but something might and might be likely to get "lost in translation" or "lost in inference." Seems a little hopeless then to try and construct and control and online image but maybe if we give more and quality information the inferences might be closer to what we intended, but then again...maybe not.
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